Many Christian circles focus heavily on "well-behaved children." It is often a status symbol, a parent ranking system, an indicator of success or failure on the parents part. This was totally me. I know that my children cannot be good on their own, and that their own goodness is like filthy rags to God, and that the only goodness that counts is Jesus' goodness. But I'm realizing more and more that I don't always parent this way. That's what I believe, but I parent like the "law" (rules, and good behavior) will save them.
(Side note: the majority of these ideas, thoughts, and some direct quotations come from my favorite parenting book Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick. My words and descriptions are interwoven with the author's. To direct quote was nearly impossible bc every other sentence I added some things, took some things out, etc. But the major ideas are hers. I've just put them into two categories of law driven parenting and grace driven parenting).
Law Driven Parenting
- Has the goal of well-behaved children
- Reads the Bible as a moral codebook and simply sees a lot of lists that say "do this" and a lot of lists that say "don't do that."
- Transforms the stories of the Bible into moral stories as a way to compel obedience.
- Takes lists in the Bible out of context such as the fruit of the spirit, and make a plan, a system of rewards and consequences to get our children to model gentleness, kindness, patience, love, etc.
- We require (not instruct, train, and teach), but require religious obedience. "You must close your eyes and bow your head because we are praying." "You will stand up and sing the songs during worship at church." We panic thinking that if we can just get them to look right on the outside, it will somehow seep into their hearts and change them.
- Reward systems for good behavior, and a "demerit" system for bad behavior
- Praise for obedience and scolding for disobedience
- Concerned with how our children look and what people will think of them and us
- Sees obedience and conformity to Christian rules as the goal of parenting
- Has an unbiblical and unhealthy view of their role as a parent. Good parenting in=good children out. They often feel like their child's salvation is directly tied to their ability to be consistent and faithful.
Grace Driven Parenting
- The stories of the Bible are not for teaching moral lessons, but are about God's grace through Jesus and the Gospel.
- The Bible is about God's mercy and his ability to save souls, and use us even when we disobey. It's not about our obedience.
- Directs them to their need for Jesus and thankfulness to God.
- When they fail to obey, instead of simply employing harsh consequences to "get them to obey," we give them the Gospel. "We tell them that no matter what, they cannot keep God's law and that Jesus kept it perfectly for them. And we thank God that their relationship with him isn't built on their obedience, but on Jesus' obedience."
- "When they do obey, (if the child is a Christian) you thank God because they were able to do so because Jesus has given them His Holy Spirit."
- "When they do obey, (and they are not a Christian) we remind them that God is more powerful than sin and is strong enough to make us want to do the right thing."
- This does not mean that there aren't consequences. But the motivation is different, the conversation is different, and the desired outcome is different.
- Trains children in religious obedience- grace driven parenting teaches children about the Bible, teaches them about God and His works, prays with them, and brings them to church. But it does not force outward conformity to religious behaviors (such as praying, singing, etc), which just teaches them that the actions of Christianity (what's on the outside) is what matters. Grace driven parenting "does not assume outward conformity to religious exercises as proof of being a Christian."
- Instead of praise for their obedience and goodness, we praise God's goodness. "I noticed you shared your toys! I'm so thankful for God's working in your life that way. I know that neither of us would ever do anything kind if God wasn't helping us." This praises the only right goodness- the goodness of Jesus- and reinforces the fact that we have no goodness on our own (which is the Gospel)! It's literally ALL by God's grace and goodness to us.
- Has a Biblical and healthy view of their role as a parent. That they love, nurture, train, and discipline with faith in the Lord's ability to transform hearts, NOT in their ability to be consistent or faithful.
- The goal of parenting is that "their children are drawn by the Holy Spirit to put their faith in the goodness of Jesus." It's not a focus on becoming good, or even on becoming a "better, "more holy" Christian.